BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Batter Up

Dumping, stirring, scooping; it was a hard job. Such were the demands of a fledgling baker, still too young to read the recipe and too small to reach the kitchen counter without the assistance of a stepping stool. Measuring ingredients was a task just slightly more advanced than my skill level, but diligently, carefully, I took pre-portioned scoops of flour and sugar, adding them to the mixing bowl with earnest precision. At the age of five, it was impossible to understand the alchemy that would transform these raw, unappealing components into my favorite treat. The magic started well before the batter ever hit sheet trays, though. Even better than the finished chocolate chip cookies themselves would be the reward for all my painstaking efforts: a lick from the beater or bowl, still coated in unbaked dough.

Golden and slightly granular from the coarse brown sugar, those morsels were the ones I savored most. Though each piece of the appliance was thoroughly scraped before being surrendered for my inspection, more than enough remained to sate my sweet tooth. Looking back, those errant chunks and chips left behind within the tightly coiled metal whisk may not have been so accidental, after all.

A love for cookie dough was fostered at a very young age, from some of my very earliest memories of cooking with my mom. It seems to be a common thread across almost all demographics, even for those who learned to bake later in life, that raw cookie dough evokes a certain nostalgia. Unpretentious, undemanding, its inherent simplicity is all part of the appeal. Especially when the heat of the oven loses its appeal through the steamy summer months, it’s difficult to resist the urge to skip baking when you could just as easily dive in with a spoon.

If you can delay gratification just a little bit longer though, I have an even cooler way to appease those childhood memories. Cookie dough pudding pops, with all the familiar flavors in a creamy, frozen package, may become the new nostalgic sweet treat.

Toasting the flour brings out the subtle nutty, roasted flavors imparted by baking, without the same intense heat. The base is otherwise prepared the same as any other cooked custard, so if you can stir a pot, you can whip up this buttery brown sugar pudding in no time. In fact, you may be tempted to eat the plain pudding prior to its trip to the freezer, and I wouldn’t blame you. Just try to leave a little bit for the popsicles themselves; you’ll be grateful to have them on hand (and in hand) the next time a craving strikes.

Cookie Dough Pudding Pops

1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Chocolate Chips

Begin by lightly toasting the flour in a dry skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat and continuously, gently stir the flour, until faintly golden brown all over. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the non-dairy milk to form a thick paste, beating out any lumps before proceeding. Continue to add in the remaining non-dairy milk and whisk vigorously to smooth out the mixture. Incorporate the sugar, vegan butter, and salt, stirring well. Cook, stirring periodically, until bubbles break regularly on the surface and the liquid has thickened significantly.

Turn off the heat, cool to room temperature, and then let rest in the fridge until thoroughly chilled. Stir in the vanilla and chocolate chips before transferring the mixture to popsicle molds. Place in the freezer and let rest until frozen; at least 3 hours.

Yield will vary depending on the size of your molds.

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Coffee Flour Brew Haha

Think outside the cup. For every scalding-hot carafe of coffee, how often have you stopped to consider what didn’t make it into that brew? Precious as they are, those beans are but a small part of a bigger plant, celebrated yet simultaneously, curiously ignored. Nutritious, perfect viable fruit is stripped away from these kernels, left to rot in the fields without a second thought. Considering just how much coffee the average office drone will down in a given day, you can only imagine the staggering amount of food going to waste.

Slowly but surely, a steady buzz is growing around turning this by-product into a worthy crop in its own right. Dried and milled, the resulting coffee flour contains only as much caffeine as chocolate (which is negligible at most), but can boast a much more measured energy boost in the form of abundant protein and fiber. Although it’s been an esoteric ingredient on the fringes of mainstream food ways, considering the fact that it’s now available at Trader Joe’s, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of it from here on out.

Preserving personal health and the environment at large are both admirable goals, clearly within the cross hairs for those singing the praises of this power flour. Whether or not they’re attainable depends entirely upon more hedonistic perspectives: Taste. Leftover husks and skins don’t sound particularly delicious, and the flavor is one you might not expect based on the label. Fruity, floral, with notes of lemon and (of course) cherries, the dark brown powder tastes nothing like a cup of mud. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing to consider?

If you ask me, that unique essence just proves how much more the coffee cherry has to offer. Functioning much like cocoa powder in baked goods, it can generally take the place of 30 – 40% of the standard all-purpose flour in a given recipe, or blended into smoothies for a whole new sweet sensation.

Of course, given the comparison to cocoa, I couldn’t resist trying it first in a batch of fudgy, gluten-free brownies.

Held together by the magic of aquafaba and crowned by a perfect crackled crust, these are pretty much my ideal cookie bars. The impulse to add a bit of coffee essence was too strong to deny, but you could just as happily omit the instant coffee powder if you’re not a natural coffee fanatic. Accenting with a pinch of cinnamon, or playing up the subtle citrus notes of the flour with a hint of orange zest, would be equally delightful.

Coffee Flour Brownies

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Aquafaba
3/4 Cup (4.5 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Coffee Flour
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square pan.

Place the vegan butter, sugar, aquafaba, and 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat. Gently warm, stirring constantly, until the chocolate and butter have melted, and the sugar has dissolved. It should be smooth and silky. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool for 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee flour, cocoa powder, instant coffee (if using), salt, baking powder, chopped pecans, and remaining chocolate chips. Toss to combine and thoroughly coat the mix-ins with flour, to prevent them from sinking to the bottom.

Add the liquid chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry goods, mixing with a wide spatula to combine. You needn’t worry about over-mixing here, since it’s completely gluten-free! Make sure there are no pockets of flour or lumps hiding within the batter before transferring it to your prepared pan. Smooth down the top so it’s one even layer.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until the top is dry and shiny. A toothpick inserted into the center should pull out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it; you don’t want it completely clean, or the brownies will end up being dry. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 12 – 16 Brownies

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What’s in a Name?

One name is pretty standard baggage, if not the bare minimum for informal identification. Whether you’re a fan of your moniker or not, it sure beats yelling out “Hey, you! You with the face!” to command attention from friends and family. We all have at least one good name, and often two, perhaps three, and even a nickname for closer confidants. However, the web of casual connections grows increasingly tangled from there, when a seemingly endless stream of unrelated aliases all point in the same direction. What kind of secrets are hidden behind each different title? Where did all those names come from, and why did they keep relabeling the exact same item?

Sea foam, fairy food, hokey pokey, honeycomb, sponge candy- There could very well be more pseudonyms that I’ve missed, well concealed by this cunning candy. This vintage sweet had taken on a new assumed name with each community of unsuspecting bakers. None were troubled enough to ask many questions, so utterly enchanted by its signature matrix of sugary bubbles, forever frozen at the hard-crack stage, that all other concerns were quickly abandoned.

Though I set out on a mission to uncover the truth, that cause fell by the wayside as I cooked and caramelized, stirred and stewed, bubbled, boiled, and crystallized my very own sweet mystery. If anything, the kitchen enigma I created was even darker, more powerful than the old fashioned candies of yore. Crisp foamy craters redolent of chocolate define this newest incarnation, possessing almost as many forms of cacao as its storied names. There’s cocoa and dark chocolate of course, and cacao nibs for extra crunch, but the real secret ingredient here is chocolate extract. Nothing else is able to convey such a depth of flavor in this fragile ratio of sugars and liquids without collapsing the delicate framework of airy perforations.

I’m no closer to uncovering the true indentity of this culinary chameleon… But I do understand why so many before me have fallen for such a sweet devil without question. Now that I’ve given it yet another name to contend with, the waters of history grow murkier, tinted with the all-consuming powers of chocolate, but that’s far from a bad thing. What’s in a name, anyway?

This post was made possible thanks to Rodelle and their superlative cacao contributions.

Quadruple Chocolate Honeycomb

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
5 Tablespoons Water, Divided
1 Teaspoon White Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Chocolate Extract
2 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
2 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Cacao Nibs

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease. It doesnโ€™t need to fit perfectly inside the pan, as long as it will cover the bottom and sides without any holes for the liquid candy to escape through.

Combine the sugar, agave, 4 tablespoons of the water, and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar and place over medium heat. Swirl the pan gently to mix the ingredients as the sugar slowly melts, but avoid stirring from this point forward to prevent premature crystallization.

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining tablespoon of water, cocoa powder, and chocolate extract in a small dish; set aside.

Cook until the mixture caramelized and reaches 300 – 310 degrees, also known as the hard crack stage in candy-making terminology, and remove the pan from the heat. Things will move very quickly from here, so be on your toes. Vigorously stir in the cocoa paste along with the baking soda, allowing the mixture to froth and foam violently. Immediately transfer the liquid candy mixture to your prepared baking dish but do not spread or smooth it down. Allow it to settle naturally to maintain the structure of fine bubbles trapped within.

Let cool for at least 1 hour until fully set. To finish, melt the the dark chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, heating at intervals of 30 seconds and stirring thoroughly in between each one, until completely smooth. Pour over the top and spread it evenly across the surface. Sprinkle with cacao nibs and let rest until solidified. Break the candy into pieces and enjoy.

Sadly, it doesn’t keep well for more than a two or three days at room temperature, even when sealed in an air-tight container, so enjoy without delay!

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Neither Flowers Nor Flours

Valentine’s Day kicks into high-gear and still the debate rages on: Boxed chocolates or a bouquet? Countless delinquent romantics face this dilemma right at this very moment, weighting their options at the nearest corner store. It seems like an obvious choice to me, and the numbers agree; polls consistently rank candies and sweets as the top pick, beating out everything from cards to cologne by a landslide. They say it’s the thought that counts, but let’s be honest: For this occasion, any gift less than cacao decadence would be given in bad taste.

While I don’t have a sweetheart to spoil, there’s still plenty of love to go around because the passion for chocolate knows no bounds. Even for those procrastinating Romeos and Juliets out there, this quick-fix flourless cake is simple enough to have ready in about an hour, and is far more impressive than any handful of wilted blossoms or waxy confections. Each dense, dark, and fudgy wedge is incredibly rich so it may very well serve more than just one happy couple… but then again, for my fellow single ladies and lads out there, I certainly wouldn’t judge you for considering it as a single serving, too.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
5 Ounces Dark or Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Tablespoon Finely Ground Chia Seeds
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees with a rack in very center. Lightly grease a 6-inch round mini springform pan and set aside.

Place the vegan butter and chocolate in a large, microwave-safe bowl and heat at 30-second intervals, stirring thoroughly each time, until melted and completely smooth.

Meanwhile, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer at low speed. Once you work up a stable froth, increase the speed to high. Mix together the sugar and cream of tartar in a small bowl and slowly begin adding the mixture as the machine continues to run. Allow 8 – 10 minutes of steady whipping for the meringue to reach full volume.

Stir the remaining ingredients into the bowl of melted chocolate, taking care to beat out any clumps. Whisk about 1/4 of the stiff meringue into the chocolate to help lighten the mixture, and then switch over to a wide spatula. Gently fold in the remaining meringue until, keeping as much air in the mixture as possible, until fully incorporated. A few residual pale streaks are just fine.

Transfer the batter into your prepared pan and smooth down the top with a spatula. Bake until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is set on top; about 40 – 45 minutes. Don’t worry if it seems to collapse in the center! It will just give you more space to fill with fresh berries or whipped coconut cream.

Serves 2 – 4

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All It’s Choc-ed Up To Be

Walk two steps into your average supermarket, corner store, or pharmacy, and you’re liable to trip over a stand of assorted chocolate temptations. The field has grown at an exponential rate ever since the first bite of tempered cacao passed through discerning lips, and that explosive growth shows no sign of slowing down. It’s impossible to keep up with all the new varieties proliferating from old favorites, let alone stay in the loop about fledgling brands. Any reasonable person can at least appreciate a good square of chocolate, so it doesn’t take much to explain the steady upward trend.

Valentine’s Day is a particularly good excuse to single out some exceptional chocolate options, should you need a reason to indulge in the first place. Gourmet truffles represent the height of the art form, but for the more casual chocoholic, a whole world of superlative bars now exist within easy reach, right on shelves alongside more accessible sweets.

Better known for their whole grains, Alter Eco has colored countless meals with their rainbow of quinoa options, but also pours that same passion for quality into their chocolate molds. Carefully, consciously sourced in order to support the farmers and workers contributing to every step of the process, it’s a brand I feel especially proud to call local to the San Francisco bay area. They truly put their money where their mouth is… In between bites of luscious cacao, of course.

Not all their confections are vegan, but the dairy-free options are so dark, rich, and deeply satisfying that it’s hard to understand why they would need such a crutch at all. Look no further than the Quinoa, Mint, and Orange varieties to see for yourself.

Move over Crunch and Crackle! The most unique option of the three, popped quinoa offers all the crispy texture you love, with the sophisticated, slightly bitter chocolate you crave. Just sweet enough to take the edge off, it’s the darkest of these three, which makes even a tiny shard quite satisfying. The quinoa adds very little flavor, but big visual and textural impact. You get all the whimsy of a childhood classic but with serious chocolate taste.

Mint chocolate is perhaps one of the most perfect flavor marriages in my mind, and this rendition does not disappoint. Luscious herbal aroma perfumes the air as soon as the seal is broken, revealing a flawlessly molded bar. Tempered to a crisp snap, it has a smooth, creamy melt with a refreshing, bright, but not overpowering undercurrent of mint. Well-balanced sweetness highlights the fresh flavor while rounding out the chocolate profile.

Substantial, chunky pieces of candied zest immediately gleam across the surface of the orange twist bar. Subtly smoky, woodsy chocolate lends a more earthy essence to contrast with the bold taste of citrus. The orange itself is relatively subdued, but still clean and fresh. Those whole pieces are the best element, adding a bit of chew and excitement into the experience.

Even bad chocolate is generally pretty good, but with so many exceptional options to choose from now, why settle for second rate? It doesn’t need to be a special occasion to indulge in any of these delights.


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Bursting with Flavor

It was a warm summer day, just like any other, when I boarded a plane in Austin with a bomb in my luggage.

No, scratch that: Dozens, if not hundreds, of tiny little bombs, all packed neatly in my carry-on bag. Rest assured that security was no slouch, pulling me aside to examine the explosive contents, but still I slid through without much incident. Before I incite mass panic here, let me clarify that these bombs were only of the edible variety, bursting with energy and flavor, rather than actual firepower.

Returning home from a food-focused convention, I still felt like I was getting away with robbery, if not a greater crime of terrorism. Enjoy Life Foods had been one of the very few vegan sponsors and at the end of the event, unloaded nearly their entire supply of uneaten samples into my hungry hands. Yes, untold numbers of the brand new ProBurst Energy Bites were now mine to savor, if only I could transport them back across state lines. Though the physical weight was considerable, there’s nothing I won’t do for good food… Even if the x-ray results looked mighty questionable, and TSA cross-examination is never a fun addition to the travel agenda.

Think of the classic Larabar composition of a blended nut-and-seed bar but considerably less chewy, chop it up into bite-sized pieces, and drench the whole thing in chocolate, and you might get a vague idea of the goodness that goes into each little nugget. Each of the four flavors straddles the thin line that separates dessert from snack, pulling in impressive nutritional numbers while handily satisfying the most demanding sweet tooth.

Adventurous flavor combinations further distinguish these treats from the wide variety of energy bars already flooding the marketplace. Mango Habanero and Cranberry Orange are slightly less conventional pairings, yet there’s not a loser between them. SunSeed Butter offers nut-free peanut butter doppelganger, and my personal favorite, Cinnamon Spice, adds a balanced warmth to the dark chocolate foundation.

Although it seemed like an absurd haul at the time, guaranteed to last a lifetime for any reasonable snacker, it was a sad day when my supply finally ran dry. Thank goodness these bites are finally available for retail purchase– Especially if it means I won’t need to secretly smuggle them back home in bulk anymore.


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Nothing Bundt Chocolate

Despite the recent influx of chocolate-covered features here on BitterSweet, I swear the trend is entirely unintentional. Given the festive season that’s upon us, I’d much rather share treats infused with bright spices, sweet winter fruits, and hearty whole grains. The catch here is that I’m typically not baking for myself, but for others, and there are quite a few picky eaters on my list. While you can never please everyone, you can bet I’m still going to try.

Thus, most nuts and dried fruits are out. Anise and clove are incredibly polarizing flavors. Nothing with booze for the staunch non-drinkers. Vegetable-haters object loudly to pumpkin in any format, which means that butternut and sweet potatoes are also out. What, then, is left in the average baker’s arsenal?

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate, aside from liars and the mentally unstable. This one is nothing new, and in fact, is quite a throw back. Pilfered from my mother’s recipe box on a recent visit, this classic chocolate cake is brought to you by my Great Nana Blanche. I never met the woman, but clearly, she knew how to cook for a crowd. Easily modified to yield layers, cupcakes, or a bundt, the basic formula never disappoints.

If you’re also going crazy trying to make something special for a number of picky eaters, take a hint from the classics. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a tried-and-true, old-fashioned chocolate cake. There’s a reason why those recipes have survived through so many years.

Great Nana Blanche’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (Veganized)

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Hot Water

Simple Chocolate Glaze (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your baking vessel of choice.*

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the vegan butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla, mixing until homogeneous. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the hot water. Mix just until smooth.

*You have many options for the final shape of this cake, and all are equally delicious! Simply adjust the baking time accordingly:

9×5 loaf pan = 45 – 50 minutes
12 – 14 cupcakes = 16 – 18 minutes
8 layer cake round = 30 – 35 minutes
10-cup bundt pan = doubled recipe, baked for 60 – 70 minutes
6 – 8 mini bundts = 20 – 25 minutes

Let cool completely before glazing, if desired.

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